Wednesday, June 27, 2018


As a kid living somewhere in the vast Canadian prairies, I sang, along with my friends, nasty little ditties about Mussolini, and knew that lots of Italians lived in New York, that the Godfather ruled the mobs in the US—everyone read Puzo’s books and watched the movies—and that something called The Red Brigadescaused havoc for a time.

Then, a few years ago, I stumbled across a little book called Clash of Civilizations over an Elevator in Piazza Vittorio by Amara Lakhous. (2006).

A satire told with sympathy for the international cast of Italians and the immigrants who want the good life of Europe but grieve for what they have lost—family, identity, home…

In this book, Lakhous highlights the danger of language barriers.

Lakhous uses the character Parviz, to make his point. Parviz, talking about his landlady notes: “She calls me guagliò, it means ‘fuck’ in Neapolitan. At least, that’s what a lot of Neapolitans I’ve worked with have told me.” In fact, guagliòmeans, at least literally, “boy.” He always answers her with a simple “merci”.

The landlady’s response is telling:
“That good-for-nothing is rude when I call him guagliò! I don’t know his name, and in Naples that’s what we say, but he answers with a nasty word in his language. I don’t remember exactly the word he always says,
maybe mersa or mersis! Anyway, the point is, this word means ‘shit’ in Albanian and is used as an insult. What makes me even more suspicious is the fact that he’s tried over and over again to convince me that he comes from a country that isn’t Albania.”

In fact, Parviz is Iranian.

We also glimpse the conflicts that arise from grievances between Italians, between Italians and immigrants, and between immigrants and immigrants.

Many of these stem from stereotyping:

“Everyone knows that Sardinians are famous for kidnapping.”

“”I’m not embarrassed to say, I wouldn’t trust a Neapolitan, even if he was San Gennaro!”

“Why can’t the police be strict with immigrants who are criminals? Why should the honest ones who sweat for a piece of bread suffer!”

I waited impatiently for Lakhous’ next book, Divorce Islamic Style (2010), to be translated – it was published in 2012.

Here the focus is on Muslim immigrants, delving into the personality of a few characters, providing a greater insight into Muslim thought and beliefs and the struggle of immigrants to reconcile their convictions with their new lives in Italy.
One solution is to congregate in a “ghetto” where they live together with like-minded people, but even that doesn’t solve all their problems.

Issa, who shares a two-room apartment with eleven other immigrants, bitterly notes:

“There is a hierarchy based on native country; the eight Egyptians feel that they are the true landlords. Maybe they’ve been infected with that shitty virus that strikes all majorities, always and everywhere: screw the minorities.”

Lakhous tells us that Sofia, an Egyptian immigrant with a wonderful daughter and a lousy husband, is both Muslim and inquisitive.Having heard a good deal about the sloe-eyed virgin females awaiting male Muslim martyrs in paradise, she ponders issues such as “the billion-euro question” that many will not ask:
“What does a Muslim woman get if she has the good fortune to set foot in Paradise?”

We also see that what an immigrant deals with in adjusting to this “good life” they sought with such hope goes well beyond the job hunt and language learning.Sofia complains of how she is perceived:

“I was always arm in arm with a crowd of ghost companions. Their names? Jihad, holy war, suicide bomber, September 11th, terrorism, attacks, Iraq, Afghanistan, Twin Towers, bombs, March 11th, Al Qaeda, Taliban.”
In the end there is no real resolution for Sofia.

And finally, I was able to get a copy of Dispute Over a Very Italian Piglet (2014), in English.

Europa editions, the publisher that has brought Amara Lakhous to America, gives this description on the book’s jacket. First the setting:

“It’s October 2006. In a few months, Romania will join the European Union. Meanwhile, the northern Italian town of Turin has been rocked by a series of crimes involving Albanians and Romanians. Is this the latest eruption of a clan feud dating back centuries, or is the trouble incited by local organized crime syndicates who routinely ‘infect’ neighborhoods and then ‘cleanse’ them in order to earn big on property developments?”

Next the plot and the main character: “Enzo Laganà, born in Turin to Southern Italian parents, is a journalist with a wry sense of humor who is determined to get to the bottom of this crime wave. But before he can do so, he has to settle a thorny issue concerning Gino, a small pig belonging to his Nigerian neighbor, Joseph. Who brought the pig to the neighborhood mosque? And for heaven’s sake, why?”

Here, our protagonist, the journalist Enzo Laganà,  manipulates the press with stories that are pure fabrication, “fake news” at its best.


Some things are similar to Canada of course. We, too, have our internal problems, our French/English conflict for one, which flares up from time to time—Quebec threatens to separate—and then it dies down.

We also have immigration issues. During the late 70s and early 80s I lived and worked in a suburb that was home to 76 different ethnic groups, 46 of which were represented in our student- body. We saw firsthand some of the conflicts, but only the mere tip of the iceberg was revealed to us. I would constantly hear things like:

“Mrs. Jones, I’ll apologize to you, but a Vietnamese never apologizes to a Chinese.”

“Mrs. Jones, my mom says I can’t bring Nguyet to my house, but we’re friends. Why is she being like that? What can I do?”

A hierarchy among the immigrants we did not see. As Canadians, how could we?

Reading Lakhous led me to draw certain conclusions.

In my mind, Canada is too young to have the intensity of internal conflicts that occur in Italy. Those come from a long history that allow grievances to fester and grow over time to become, “Everyone knows Sardinians are famous for kidnapping.”

I also believe that the effect of immigration on any country is partially dependent on size. Italy is about 301,340 sq km, while Canada is 9,984,670 sq km, making Canada 33 times bigger. Thousands of people entering a country as geographically large as Canada are less likely to have as profound an impact as seems to happen in Italy.

By 2014, when Lakhous wrote and published Dispute over a Very Italian Piglet, he had become much harsher. I take this to mean that, with the influx of refugees recently, the sheer numbers seeking safety and prosperity in Italy, tensions are running high.

Lakhous also critiques the political establishment. He throws around names that mean nothing to me—of politicians and the mafia— but their actions and behaviors sound alarmingly like Trump and his ilk.

If corruption runs rampant in Lakhous’ Italy, if the ties between politicians and the mafia are as blatant as he says, is that any different than the American president and senators who cozy up with the NRA? Or corruption in any other country?

Ultimately, what Lakhous gifts us with are understandings and truths that hit home no matter who you are or where you are in the world.

Now, please excuse me while buy and read The Prank of the Good Little Virgin of Via Ormea (2016). Described on its jacket as a “farcical whodunit”, I know it will be far more than that.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Why is there a Baobab tree on the cover of my book?

Why is there a baobab tree on the cover of my book?

See a baobab tree and you're instantly intrigued. How can something grow and survive with its roots in the air? Not only do they survive, they are instrumental in the survival of humans providing food, medicine, shelter, and material to make cloth, ropes, baskets....

The baobabs in Mali fascinated me and it was logical to have a boabab tree play a role in the parts of the story set in West Africa.

Searching for a picture to use on the cover led me to: the fony baobab tree in Madagascar estimated to be over 1000 years old. (photo by David Thyberg)

Why is there a baobab tree on the cover of my book?

and this: A hollow 3000 year-old baobab in Zimbabwe (photo Christophe Poudras) which can house up to 40 people.

Why is there a baobab tree on the cover of my book?

and this: Avenue of the Baobabs - western Madagascar (photo Dani-Jeske)

Why is there a baobab tree on the cover of my book?

and my favorite: In Mali.

Why is there a baobab tree on the cover of my book?

To learn more about these amazing survivors in the harshest of conditions click here. 

And to see what happens under that baobab on the cover of my book go to my website.

Thursday, June 7, 2018


 The Josephine B. Trilogy by [Gulland, Sandra]

What is it about some books that demand our time, that demand we read and read until we can't keep our eyes open any longer?

I read a broad variety of genres, enjoy many writing styles, the works of authors from many countries and, because the books I read are so varied, I've never found a definitive answer.

Whatever the magic, whatever the lure of this book or that, I feel compelled to make suggestions and recommendations to fellow readers.

The Josephine B Trilogy, written exclusively in diary entry format, is high on my list of must reads. The entries, sometimes curt, reveal an intriguing woman as well as a fascinating look at Napoleon--one of history's greatest.

Of her trilogy, which took her 10 years to write, Gulland says, "In fact, Josephine did not keep a journal. I think if she had, I would have had a hard time writing a fictional journal for her. Most every biographer and historian portrays Josephine in a negative light. My own research -- and consultations with historians -- led me to different conclusions."

For more information: Click here

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Modern medicine’s greatest failure

Modern medicine’s greatest failure


“What?” I ask anxiously.

“The school just sent an email. Head lice. In four classes.”


“Yes. Will you help?”

This will make three times in as many months. We could solve the problem by shaving their heads, but I refrain from making that suggestion.

“Of course I’ll help.” Treatment is not something one can do alone and as she and her daughter are always cuddling, we’ll have to do both of them.

Step one: Buy wine.

Step two: Apply the treatment—kills the lice and nits in 58 seconds, they claim.

Step three: After 30 minutes comb the hair with the special lice comb provided. Small problem here. The comb does not catch all the nits. Stop combing and try to trap the nit between your thumb nail and finger and pull it down the strand of hair. Sometimes you succeed, but usually you don’t.

Modern medicine’s greatest failure

The process gives a whole new meaning to the expression “nitpicking.”

Step four: Open another bottle of wine.

Step five: Curse and question the whole scientific community. Why the “H E double L” hasn’t someone managed to eradicate these little devils?
The damn things have been around for hundreds of years.

“Since no verified fossils of lice have ever been found we can only speculate when they originated. We do know the ancient Egyptians and Greeks wrote of them and they were found on prehistoric American Indian mummies.” Penn State Department of Entomology

Step six: Strip the beds, throw all recently worn clothing and anything that might have been in contact with the infected heads in the wash, put brushes, combs, and hair accessories to soak in boiling water.

Step seven: Repeat the treatment process a second time 8 to 10 days later.

Any teacher can tell you that head lice find their way through every single elementary school. I was once principal of a K-9 school that hosted a head lice study (I do not remember agreeing to this) and it was a nightmare. Weeks and weeks of checking every single person’s head for lice and I don’t remember what all else—obviously the whole experience was one of those things one does not want to remember. And—big surprise—the study did not come up with any magic answers.

If you’ve never had to deal with head lice and nits (which stick around for days after the treatment), count yourself lucky.