Author: Susan Orlean Title: The Library Book Narrator: Susan Orlean Publication Info: Simon & Schuster Audio (2018) Summary/Review: Susan Orlean’s excellent work of narrative nonfiction focuses on the Los Angeles Central Library, particularly on the April 29, 1986 fire that severely damaged the building. Orlean examines the history and aftermath of the fire and reconstruction through interviews of past and current library employees and an examination of the library’s history to its origins over a century ago. The book also tells the story of Harry Peak, a young aspiring actor and attention seeker who became a leading arson suspect. The cause of the fire remains unsolved to this day.
Title: The Music Room (Jalsaghar) Release Date: 10 October 1958 Director: Satyajit Ray Production Company: Aurora Film Corporation Summary/Review:
Set in the 1920s, a landlord in Bengal, Biswambhar Roy (Chhabi Biswas), neglects his responsibilities and squanders his family fortune in order to host concerts and dance recitals in the music room of his decaying palace. His need to gain prestige by hosting expensive entertainments only intensifies when a nouveau riche man, Mahim Ganguly (Gangapada Bose), moves into a neighboring estate. The film shows Roys descent into monomania and willingness to sacrifice everything, including his wife and son. The film is punctuated by three recitals in the music room which are fantastic displays of music and dance.
Author: Zeyn Joukhadar Title: The Map of Salt and Stars Narrator: Lara Sawalha Publication Info: [New York] : Simon & Schuster Audio, 
This novel is the story of 12-year-old Nour, who grows up in Manhattan, but after the death of her father, her mother takes the family back to their native Syria. Nour find herself an outsider, unable to speak Arabic. Unfortunately, their move to Syria coincides with a time of increasing protests that grow into the Arab Spring and then the Syrian Civil War. Nour and her family become refugees crossing the Middle East and North Africa.
Throughout the novel, Nour tells herself her father’s story of Rawiya, a girl from hundreds of years earlier, who disguised herself as a boy and has adventures traveling around the Meditteranean. The two stories interweave through the novel, intersecting in the similarities of the two protagonists.
The novel is a good story and in Nour and Rawiya has two characters that readers can identify. It’s a good introduction for young adult readers (and old adults like me) to the issues of contemporary Syria from the perspective of a child.
Title: A Man Escaped Release Date: 11 November 1956 Director: Robert Bresson Production Company: Gaumont Film Company Summary/Review:
This French drama focuses on a member of La Résistance held in a prison in Lyon by the occupying forces of Germany. The film is inspired by the true story of André Devigny who escaped Montluc prison in 1943. François Leterrier portrays Lieutenant Fontaine, a young prisoner who if fully intent on escaping. Fontaine’s contact with other prisoners is limited to washing times and tapping on the wall to a neighboring cell, so much of the film is Fontaine working within the claustrophobic confines of his cell. Leterrier does a great job, especially considering that he was not a professional actor at the time in accordance with the neorealist approach to filmmaking.
While this movie may be a bit slow for modern audiences, I still find the depiction of Fontaine’s deliberate work to come up with an escape plan and the tools he needs for escape to be mesmerizing. It’s also fascinating that several key moments, Fontaine hesitates, adding an extra layer of realism. If there’s one thing that bothers me about this movie it is an overreliance on narration, especially when Fontaine narrates the exact thing we see him doing. I also don’t know how he remains clean-shaven despite not having access to a razor, but that’s a minor quibble.
This is an excellent, compelling drama and I’m glad I had the opportunity to watch it.
Welcome to the final Marx Brothers Mondays! I’ve skipped over several of the Marx Brothers later movies as they’re considered to be not so good, and this is the only one I found free on a streaming service. This will be my final review for now.
Title: A Night in Casablanca Release Date: May 10, 1946 Director: Archie Mayo Production Company: Loma Vista Productions Summary/Review:
The Marx Brothers are set in a post-World War II spy thriller parody. Groucho plays Ronald Kornblow who is hired as the new manager of the Hotel Casablanca, unaware that Nazi war criminal Heinrich Stubel (Sig Ruman) murdered the previous 3 managers as part of a plot to find stolen art hidden within the hotel. Lisette Verea plays the femme fatale Stubel sends to seduce and distract Kornblow.
The comedy isn’t as sharp as the earlier films, but I did find myself guffawing quite a bit all the same. I especially like the antics of Harpo, Chico, and Groucho in the final 20 minutes as the subvert Stubel’s attempts to escape. This may be controversial, but I found it funnier that A Day at the Races.