This Week's Reads

Mark Lee, Marjane Satrapi, Ariel Gore, and Patricia McConnell.


Mark Lee is a distinguished foreign correspondent who wrote about East Africa and East Timor for the London Telegraph, The Atlantic, and the Los Angeles Times. His reporting was so incisive that Idi Amin booted him out of Uganda. The most distinguished thing about his second novel, The Canal House (Algonquin, $23.95), is its authoritative depiction of no-longer-innocents-abroad in war zones, reminiscent of Michael Herr only not so bratty and narcissistic. The tone is closer to John Le Carré's mournfully moralistic Africa novel The Constant Gardener; at times, it reminds me of a cross between Graham Greene and The Summer Before the Dark. The protagonists are grizzled war correspondent Daniel; his outwardly cynical, inwardly soulful photographer partner, Nicky; and crusading physician Julia, who's funded by her plutocratic, vaguely Richard Branson-like lover Richard, an entrepreneur/philanthropist slick as mercury. The action leaps from Uganda, where Nicky and Daniel seek an audience with the guerrilla leader of the Lord's Righteous Army (who's holding Western hostages), to London, where fully cynical editors demand "good visuals," to Italy, Australia, and other troubled climes. The titular canal house is where Julia and Daniel briefly retreat from the world's woes to carry on their romance. But soon they're off to war-torn East Timor, where somebody will die and another be disillusioned. It's a pretty good thriller, swift and logical, with plausible peeks inside glamorous heads. The real draw, though, is the authority of Lee's sense of far-flung place. And House captures the whiff of wounded romanticism and newshound machismo any reader of such books craves: "This job is very simple," Nicky is instructed before his debut assignment. "When there's gunfire, the journalists, the soldiers, and the aid workers all fall to the ground . . . we shooters stand up to take the picture. That's the difference, Nicky. That's who we are." House makes you feel like a member of the press corps. Tim Appelo Mark Lee will appear at Third Place Books (17171 Bothell Way N.E., 206-366-3333), 7 p.m. Wed., May 28. THE VEIL AND THE CIGARETTE

Even as the patriarchal Islamic worldpostwar Iraq includedstruggles to reconcile faith with modernity, its previously silent half is suddenly speaking up, to welcome, bracing effect. In film, young Iranian director Samira Makhmalbaf (The Apple, Blackboards) offers one new paradigm of Islamic feminism; in publishing, her counterpart just might be 33-year-old Marjane Satrapi, author and illustrator of the wonderful memoir Persepolis (Doubleday, $17.95), finally translated into English after its serial publication in France in 2000 and 2001. You'd ordinarily call this kind of thing a graphic novel, but it's not a novel. Though she's writing and recalling events as an adult, Satrapi, who has created several children's books, keeps the style of her black-and-white panels stark and simple, limiting the perspective to exactly what a 10- to 14-year-old girl would see and understand. The surprise is what horrors her parents, royal-blooded-intellectuals-turned-leftists, let her see. Young Marjane goes along to demonstrations against the Shah. After Khomeini's return, she participates in marches that are violently suppressed. Family members are killed by the new regime's fundamentalist goons. When her nation is at war with Saddam, missiles fall on Tehran, obliterating her next-door neighbors. With the men in beards and women in veils, Satrapi renders faces with about three deft lines: eyes, nose, mouth. God, a frequent confidant to young Marjane, has a billowy, Santa-like beard. Children have oversized noggins and eyes. The effect is naive, but not faux. Marjane learns all about the ugly reality of politics, and about the ugly compromises of adult life, before she even hits puberty. Nor does Satrapi make her adolescent self any wiser or nobler than any teen girl that age. At home, the curtains drawn against spying neighbors, Marjane dances gleefully to Kim Wilde and Iron Maiden. She clings to her new white Nikes, jean jacket, and Michael Jackson button, not as precious tokens of Western freedom, but as even more precious tokens of Western rebellion. Persepolis ends with Marjane being sent to boarding school in Austria in 1983, and Satrapi is presently at work on a sequel. From news accounts, we know she went back to college in Iran, then moved to France. Hers is a story you'll want to continue. Brian Miller Marjane Satrapi will read at Elliott Bay Books (101 S. Main St., 206-624-6600), 7 p.m. Thurs., May 29. STAR CHILD

I tend to think that writers who title their chapters with elliptical non sequiturs and poetic sentence fragments like "We Are Here to Ruin Ourselves" and "And If I Forget" are writers who'd be better off strumming guitars and singing songs at coffeehouse open mics. When I reached what might have been the epilogue to Hip Mama editor Ariel Gore's self-described "memoir/novel" Atlas of the Human Heart (Seal, $14.95), it was instead called "Bonus Track." Naturally, I couldn't help but roll my eyes and tell myself that I had told myself so. On its front cover, Atlas bears the prominent recommendation of a bona fide riot grrrl: Sleater-Kinney singer/guitarist Corin Tucker. Not that this should count against the book (or its author), I just want you to know it's one of those. Think of it as a more touchy-feely, less slick High Fidelity, Less Than Zero, or To Be Someone. Gore's prose is lyrical; at her best, she writes so casually and with such boho style that her memories tumble into one another effortlessly. In this way, she's able to tell her story while simultaneously recalling Tom Waits on her headphones; a supposedly straight male friend who really loved Madonna; and hearing "Stairway to Heaven" while being assaulted at a stupid high-school party. However, at times Gore's already overly familiar characterizations and reference points are too easily made via textbook pop-music references and/or sociopolitical alliances. And, frankly, much of what happens to this young, idealistic author isn't exactly enthrallingno matter how naturally she relates her experiences. Gore comes of age in posh Palo Alto, Calif., and subsequently travels the globe to find herself, but how many priviledged young white women can tellmore or lessthe exact same tale? But at least her easy, casual style makes the de rigueur fairly fun to read. Gore, a Portland resident and former welfare mom who made headlines and hero lists when her 'zine, Hip Mama, became so widely read that it reached the ranks of maga-zines and spawned the book The Hip Mama Survival Guide, is one of those women's womenyou can just tell. By the time you reach the end of Atlas, silly song references or not, even nonbreeders may be fighting the urge to say, "You go, girl." Laura Cassidy Ariel Gore will read at University Book Store (4326 University Way N.E., 206-634-3400), 7:30 p.m. Fri., May 30; and Elliott Bay Books (101 S. Main St., 206-624-6600), 7:30 p.m. Sat., May 31. SIT! STAY! COME!

Think you know your dog? Not likely, according to animal behaviorist Patricia McConnell's The Other End of the Leash: Why We Do What We Do Around Dogs (Ballantine, $13.95, new in paper). Even if you love your canine like he came from your own loins, you're still likely to fall prey to the all-too-common trap of interspecies miscommunication. McConnell, a Ph.D. and Wisconsin zoology professor, runs through a number of case histories and familiar scenariosthe beagle that seemingly bites without provocation, the mastiff who poops at randomin chapters like "Planet Smell" and "Translating Primate to Canine." Her basic premise is: "All dogs are brilliant at perceiving the slightest movement we make, and they assume that each tiny motion has meaning." Like people, dogs are social beasts capable of a wide range of complex emotions; like people, they're fully in need of love, considerate care, and affection. Mostly common sense, right? A lot of the information McConnell provides, however, is counterintuitive. For example: Did you know most dogs don't like to be hugged? They will tolerate it from their favorite people, but generally take it not as a sign of affection but a display of social dominance. Also: Walking toward a dog and gesturing is one of the worst ways to get a dog to come to you. Moving in the direction you'd like your dog to go, while gesturing over your shoulder, is far more effective. The good doctor provides a plethora of tips, stories, and gentle instructions covering myriad behavioral problemsmaybe not the most scintillating read for those without pets, but a godsend for any frustrated dog owner ready to ship their incontinent Chihuahuas and shoe-destroying shih tzus off to a farm. Leash is a useful tool for anyone wishing to better understand their most loyal furry friend. Leah Greenblatt Patricia McConnell will appear at Third Place Books (17171 Bothell Way N.E., 206-366-3333), 7 p.m. Mon., June 2.

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