Image of Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood
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“This book is a breath of fresh air.”

Born A Crime is a rollicking ride of a book, an enjoyable feast of storytelling. Deservedly it is already a number one bestselling book. Combining comedy and tragedy, the book covers the dying days of apartheid in South Africa and the uncertain dawn of a new age as Nelson Mandela tries to birth a Rainbow Nation out of a horrific, nationalist, racist past.

Trevor Noah’s autobiography of his childhood and adolescence in this perilous, shifting landscape cleverly avoids polemical statements and moral platitudes. Instead he describes a resilient and opportunistic child and teenager whose intuitive street smarts lead him into a hustler’s life. The very facts of how he learns to navigate the political currents swirling around him provides vivid commentary on those challenging times for South Africa.

The book begins and ends with chapters on his mother. She is a woman of unbreakable religious faith. Sundays with Mom mean attending three different churches in three different parts of Johannesburg and environs.

Mrs. Noah is a formidable woman. She knowingly broke apartheid laws designating as a crime sexual intercourse between people of different races. Yet, she moved into a “gray” area (neither white nor black-only residences) with a man she loved, a Swiss man. Wanting a child she persuaded him to be the father.

When Trevor was born she moved back to her mother in Soweto, the sprawling black township near Johannesburg. Trevor became accustomed to clandestine visits to his father. He learned that if they were out in public he could not call him “Dad” and must walk alongside his mother but several steps behind his father. In later years his father moved to Cape Town, and they lost contact.

Trevor does not enjoy church and argues continually with his mother about her Sunday regime. But she is steadfast in her faith overcoming all obstacles an inadequate transport system throws in her way. Only when he was an older teenager and living away from home did Trevor stop going to church.

By then we have learned of his mother’s marriage to a Tsonga man, a master mechanic, Abel, and of their move to a previously “whites only” suburb where Abel houses his business. Eventually Trevor has two younger brothers, Andrew and Isaac.

Early on Trevor experiences being on the receiving end of Abel’s strength, wrath and other ravages his alcoholism bring. But this move does not only portend tragedy. Fortuitously it also provides Trevor with a shot at better schooling. He is now enrolled in previous “whites only” schools.

At junior high and high school, Trevor encounters the heartache of crushed love. He struggles to find his identity as a so-called “colored” youth, unacceptable to both the black kids at school and the white. His identity crisis also creates opportunities as he uses his entrepreneurial instincts to keep himself busy and earn some money.

“My life of crime started off small. Selling pirated CDs on the corner. That in itself was a crime, and today I feel I owe all these artists money for stealing their music, but by hood standards it didn’t even qualify as illegal. At the time it never occurred to any of us that we were doing anything wrong—if copying CDs is wrong, why would they make CD writers?”

Trevor graduates from high school and wants to study computer programming at university, but the family does not have the money to pay for his studies. Unemployment among black youth is as high as 50 percent. For the last two years of his adolescence, Trevor, living away from home, and along with friends, works the streets of seedy and dangerous Alexandria Township selling pirated CDs, DJ’ing wherever invited, and working deals for other hustlers that give him and his cronies a cut of the profit.

Inevitably, the day arrives where he is stopped by the cops and arrested for driving a stolen car. The car belongs to Abel but Trevor “borrowed” it and put on false number plates. He cannot find the registration papers. Through guile he avoids a jail sentence but after describing a week in a holding pen awaiting trail, we see fully that the new black police force is as brutal as their white predecessors.

The book ends on a poignant note. Trevor, in his twenties and working as a stand-up comic, on Sunday morning is called by one of his younger brothers and told Abel shot their mother. Her life had moved on from Abel having divorced him and married again. One Sunday in a drunken rage he sought her out and shot her. Miraculously she survives, and Noah writes movingly of how her near-death experience highlights their indestructible bond and how much having her as his mother shaped his life.

Once she is out of danger they sit on her hospital bed, “She broke into a huge smile and started laughing. Through my tears I started laughing too. I was bawling my eyes out and laughing hysterically at the same time. We sat there and she squeezed my hand and we cracked each other up the way we always did, mother and son. Laughing together through the pain in an intensive-care recovery room on a bright and sunny and beautiful day.”

This book is a breath of fresh air. Hopefully a sequel is in the works. We wonder how Trevor Noah made the leap from stand-up comic in South Africa to anchor The Daily Show as Jon Stewart’s successor in New York.

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After 9/11: One Girl’s Journey through Darkness to a New Beginning: A Memoir by Helaine Hovitz

Image of After 9/11: One Girl’s Journey through Darkness to a New Beginning
Author(s):
Release Date:
September 5, 2016
Publisher/Imprint:
Carrel Books
Pages: 480
Reviewed by:

“Hovitz had the grit, determination and resources to pull herself out of the morass of PTSD. What about the rest of her generation growing up in this post-September 11 world?”

Author Helaina Hovitz in her book After 9/11: One Girl’s Journey Through Darkness to a New Beginning provides us with a timely account of the seen and unseen damage searing experiences and memories shape.

In the book Hovitz shares her memories of that dread filled morning on September 11, 2001, when a neighbor, Ann, collected her children and then 12-year old Hovitz from their middle school as it was evacuated.

“’Don’t look up, don’t look back, just keep going!’’ Hovitz writes: “I was tiny so I had to fight my way through walls of people. . . . Before it was fun. An adventure. Now, it suddenly felt like I couldn’t breathe, and maybe I couldn’t. In fact, I felt like I was going to faint. . . . ‘Oh my God, they’re jumping!’ Ann said . . . I kept hearing more sounds. Some reminded me of the crashing and grinding of garbage trucks, others of a heavy box suddenly dropped on the ground, others, still, hail hitting a window, only heavier, like a giant bag full of nails, creaking, slamming, booming.”

How does anyone survive psychologically intact from such horror experienced at the onset of adolescence—or at any age? But millions of New Yorkers have had to cope with PTSD to a greater or lesser degree after September 11 and so have many hundreds of millions of Americans, and indeed people from around the globe. Our world changed that day, and we are still dealing with the seismic aftershocks.

Helaina Hovitz, in understated prose, takes us with her on her path away from PTSD. She does not shy away from nor minimize the effects of her trauma. Years of therapy and counseling, growth into adulthood with not so deeply buried horrific memories that threaten to overcome her at any moment, panic attacks, her descent into sexual acting out, and alcoholism are all vividly laid out for us.

For Helaina, a university graduate, the path ends more or less happily at “This.”  “’This’ would be finalizing a book. ‘This’ would be attempting, with no prior business whatsoever to start-up a news service exclusively focused on inspiring and hopeful stories about people who are trying to make the future better.’ ‘This’ was dealing with chronic pain, for almost a ten years by then, trying tons of doctors and medications and therapies and getting nowhere.’ ‘This’ was doing it all stone-cold sober.’”

Hovitz had the grit, determination and resources to pull herself out of the morass of PTSD. What about the rest of her generation growing up in this post-September 11 world? How many of them have a shot at new beginnings akin to Helaina’s?

Recently on August 17, 2016, we were reminded of the devastating effects of such trauma when we saw the infinitely tragic image of Omran Daqneesh, the Syrian boy sitting in an ambulance seat in Aleppo, his hair, face and body covered in ash and blood. Since 9/11 so many hundreds of thousands of children have suffered death or grievous physical and psychological trauma in the Middle East and other conflicts. We read and see their stories daily in the media.

Throughout history witness-bearers through their stories provide personal glimpses into historic events that can otherwise become dates and place names and statistics. Hovitz’s book opens a window on one person’s journey in the aftermath of September 11. She has rendered a valuable service in adding her voice to the memory of this momentous interstice in world history.

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tumblr_oakla4rnMS1vz8wnzo1_500Image published by Huffington Post, August 10

My Thought #1  I feel pity for Donald Drumpf because now I see him for what he is—yes, you read correctly—pity and sorrow, but still despising and despairing about what he stands for and what he’s done to our country. He is a cowardly braggart, narcissist, and both ego- and megalomaniac. These are but words to describe a very sick man. He is a bull gone amok in a china shop and now that he has almost shattered everything around him; exhausted, bewildered, he remains determined to bring the whole building down around your ears and mine.

Conflagration date; during the weeks before and after November 8; if, indeed anything is left of our political process by then.

Are you reading this Donald? A wise person told me that when someone is pointing a finger of blame at another, three fingers point back at—them. Do you get it?

Doesn’t a Drumpf yuuuuuge vacation seem like a good idea right now—for his own and all our sakes?

He is simply the most out-of-control and the most dangerous, unaware, unconscious and unconscionable public persona in American history. Not our first racist bigot, not our first fascist, but our first demagogue who channels Benito Mussolini and the far lesser but equally horrifying, (his “friend”) Roger Stone. Drumpf’s name will live on in infamy.

(The Guardian August 9): Roger Stone, an informal adviser to the Trump campaign, implied last month to internet agitator Milo Yiannopoulos that the notion of discrediting the election as “illegitimate” is part of Trump’s campaign strategy.

Stone’s maladvice to Drump

“I think we have widespread voter fraud, but the first thing that Trump needs to do is begin talking about it constantly,” Stone said. “He needs to say for example, today would be a perfect example: ‘I am leading in Florida. The polls all show it. If I lose Florida, we will know that there’s voter fraud. If there’s voter fraud, this election will be illegitimate, the election of the winner will be illegitimate, we will have a constitutional crisis, widespread civil disobedience, and the government will no longer be the government.’”

“If you can’t have an honest election, nothing else counts,” Stone continued. “I think he’s gotta put them on notice that their inauguration will be a rhetorical, and when I mean civil disobedience, not violence, but it will be a bloodbath. The government will be shut down if they attempt to steal this and swear Hillary in. No, we will not stand for it. We will not stand for it.”

This is what I mean by “conflagration”. Come on folks, we are hearing this very script pertaining to Pennsylvania for a week already; except he is not leading in Pennsylvania.

Who can save this very sick man—and us—from all our worst nightmares manifesting? His children can, if they approach him along with his innocent grandchildren, and lead him gently out of the china shop. But Ivanka &Co, better ask him to get his foot out of his mouth first if he wants to walk and not fall and be carried out by them.

 

Thought #2 President Obama’s reading list is impressive in its eclecticism:

“Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life” by William Finnegan

“The Underground Railroad” by Colson Whitehead

“H Is for Hawk” by Helen Macdonald

“The Girl on the Train” by Paula Hawkins

“Seveneves” by Neal Stephenson

I’ve only read “H is for Hawk”, an excellent book being made into a movie. Read a review http://www.nyjournalofbooks.com/book-review/h-hawk

 

 

 

 

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This past weekend I volunteered at a Democratic Party phone bank in Florida calling registered Democratic voters. I made around one hundred calls. Many I reached said they are with her but about TEN PERCENT, ALL lifelong Democrats, said they are undecided. When I probed a little the resounding response was why does she lie—and continue to evade being straightforward and honest—about her use of a private email server for classified emails when she was Secretary of State. They truly wanted to vent their disappointment and doubt.

I tried to re-assure them stating that she has apologized, said she made a mistake and it won’t happen again–their response? Why does this keep happening and why can’t she come out with an authentic, from the heart, simple statement?

Well, why can’t she? I don’t know the answer to that question.

Just this past week she muddied the waters again by saying she may have “inadvertently” “short-circuited” her responses to official and unofficial investigations around this email issue. The media zeroed in on the “short-circuited” and omitted the “inadvertently”. This is what the media does and after twenty-five years in public life Hillary should have learned to choose her words more carefully…or if she has a problem talking off the cuff…simply speak truthfully from the heart. (I don’t believe she has a problem fielding questions given her debate performances, but then she’s talking policy and not miring herself deeper and deeper in personal issues. She keeps a shield between herself and her public.)

“Authenticity”, “sincerity” and “missing” are two words I heard repeatedly.

Other phone bank volunteers with me reported the same unease among people they called. We asked the paid organizers to pass this feedback up the chain, and they said they would. Other people have shared with me that at fund raising and other Democratic Party events, this remains the number one troubling concern for previous Democratic voters.

If this is a problematic issue in Florida (critical swing state) and around the country, my ten percent of responders can quickly amount to millions of votes lost for Hillary and hundreds of Democratic Party members “down-ticket” running for office–from the local to national level.

Driving home and thinking about this, I now believe supporters do trust Hillary and her experience and ability to govern but question her inability not to obfuscate.

So, for me it is her perceived lack of humility and grace under pressure that is bothering them at a visceral level. They are looking for an opening to support her whole-heartedly but these niggles remain.

This Monday morning’s election headlines reported that Tim Kaine, Hillary’s running mate for the presidential election on November 8 said over the weekend that Hillary and the campaign are aware of “trust” and “trustworthiness” issues with voters. He also said that when Hillary and he are in the White House there would be “total transparency.”

I am pleased to read and hear this and that his comments are so widely covered by reporters. But there is more that needs to be done. We need to hear this from her!

 URGENT MEMO: HILLARY’S TOP CAMPAIGN TEAM

ADD: TO DO LIST FOR HILLARY CLINTON AND HER CAMPAIGN

Produce a simple short ad with Hillary acknowledging that the email issue continues to shadow her campaign. Have her say, while sitting at a kitchen table as she did in the Convention video, all homey and casual and humble, so as to connect with all voters:

“I hear you. I know many of you are still worried about issues of the email server when I was Secretary of State. But that was more the four years ago. I’ve learned my lesson. I made a mistake. I apologize unequivocally to all of you who support us, and our causes. Here is our promise. Tim and I will strive to do our best for you and honor, explicitly, your trust.”

Then post/send this key quote to every social media and other media (print, TV) outlet and Internet tools you have. Share/blast the heck out of it!

I will continue to volunteer for Hillary—this election is too important for us to sit out.

But, it will be excellent if the campaign committee can help her help herself and all of us!

Hope you read this Donna Brazile!!

 

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MY HEARTFELT APPEAL DIRECTED TO REPUBLICAN LEADERS TO DITCH DRUMPF.

LET’S PUT OUR COUNTRY BACK ON A PATH OF SANITY. HE IS AMERICA’S GREATEST FAILURE.

For most of my adult life I’ve been an educator, as well as a freelance journalist and an author, an international expert on the psychology of personality, and since the age of thirteen an anti-apartheid activist in my motherland, South Africa.

Let’s start there—the racist ideological madmen whom we opposed in South Africa at least believed in something, albeit a despicable racist ideology.

Drumpf believes in nothing except himself and his brand…and that’s it. He is non-empathic and unaware of the damage his lies do to other Americans and his country. He’s a racist. He’s a psychologically impaired ego- and megalomaniac. He is in the same league as all the most infamous villains of history. That alone should disqualify him for President.

Drumpf is the most pervasive negative role model for our children and grandchildren.

I’ve written a book on parenting, I’ve taught hundreds, if not into the low thousands of highly intelligent, young people, about moral responsibility, human rights, reality and illusion, and perhaps, most importantly, how to think and write critically.

* Drumpf models that it’s perfectly acceptable to be an ill-prepared, foul-mouthed, morally blind ignoramus. As long as you can lie and lie again, and bully and browbeat, you can be President.

*Drumpf models to them that bluster and bullying, screaming obscenities at individuals and groups is acceptable —after all he’s running for President; he’s the standard-bearer of the Republican Party, he must be okay.

* Drumpf lies and double downs, contradicts himself, lies again. He is a national embarrassment. He is a vaudeville villain, a clown, a con man, a cheat, a liar, a liar, and a liar.

HE IS A PATHOLOGICAL LIAR. He models to America and the world’s children that it’s okay to lie. And lie, and lie.

* He signals to America’s allies and enemies that his word is NEVER TO BE TRUSTED.

* He signals to Americans not only that can WE NEVER TRUST HIM but the sure road ahead if he becomes President will be to upend 240 years of progress, of tearing up the Bill of Rights and the Constitution.

*He is the greatest danger to America’s future and that means the international order too.

Can you imagine Drumpf trying to deal with a major catastrophe; he’ll blame the victims.

He’ll shirk responsibility. He won’t spend time in the White House; he’ll go back to his shyster business dealings. He and his wife will visit occasionally. Pence will be our president except in name…. and on and on.

My heartfelt appeal is directed to Republican leaders TO DITCH DRUMPF. Let’s put our country back on a path of sanity. He is America’s greatest failure.

 

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Barkskins: A Novel by Annie Proulx

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Reviewed by:

“Over 300 years the forests are raped, eco-systems destroyed, wealth generated, and the insatiable international desire and greed for wood exploited.”

Annie Proulx, the author of Barkskins is an accomplished American writer. She has achieved the status of grande dame of American letters and deservedly so. An earlier book, The Shipping News, is a stellar work, one with teeth and grit, lyricism and poignancy, dark as well as magical moments. That book remains a pioneer at the frontier of American fiction, as her protagonist, Quoyle, exists in one of the first portrayals of a single father as a heroic figure through the travails and triumphs of his small, dysfunctional family.

If readers hope for more of the same in Barkskins they will be disappointed. The book is overlong, the storylines confusing, the insertion of pages and pages of albeit interesting facts about daily life in the towering, primeval forests—the utensils, the logging tools, the clothes, the traditions, rites and rituals of all the people who meet, clash, and intermingle—are shared in almost overwhelming detail, so as to slow and even disrupt the novel. It is as if Proulx insisted on using all the detail she had accumulated in her ten years of research and writing of Barkskins. At the very moment we are engrossed in one of the story lines we are dragged back to arcane documentation.

The book opens in 1693 when two indentured Frenchmen, René Sel and Charles Duquet, arrive in Canada—New France—to serve as woodcutters for an eccentric feudal lord who built a grand chateau deep in the forests for his future bride (when he finds one).

Sel is forced to marry a native Mi’kmaw woman, and his progeny, through generations, vacillate between the two worlds of their generators—French frontiersmen and native Canadians or “original people.”

Duquet escapes his servitude to gain a foothold on the wealth the territory offers through fur-trapping, trading, and later enterprising forays into timber. He founds, and his descendants (later changing their last name to Duke), now timber barons, forge an international empire.

Both families’ genealogical lines are tied to trees, natural disasters, unexpected plot twists and turns—in frontier Quebec, then Michigan and hundreds of years later in the kauri forests of New Zealand.

Over 300 years the forests are raped, eco-systems destroyed, wealth generated, and the insatiable international desire and greed for wood exploited.

Overall the writing is fluid, and as would expect of Proulx her characters are exposed to states of the human condition from veniality to love. There are too many characters and episodes to cite here, but among the most intriguing is the union of Kuntaw, one of Sel’s grandsons and Beatrix Duquet, a granddaughter of Charles, and their life near the Penobscot people, river and bay in Maine. This union (although they never married) is one where descendants of the Sel and Duquet families unknowingly for many years in the second half of the eighteenth century, amalgamated their lives. They had no offspring.

Kuntaw and Beatrix meet on the muddy banks of the river:

He stood a few yards back from the horse and looked at the girl. She was elegant, wearing a black cloak edged in red. Something about her dark-ivory face said she was part Indian.

“You like to make some money?” she asked moving close. She lifted her head and inhaled his odor of smoke, meat and pine pitch.

He shrugged. “What do?”

“Split wood of course.” She enunciated very carefully. ‘You carry an ax. Do you know how to split firewood?”

He nodded. “I know.”

“I need you, Indian man. Follow.” Beatrix Duquet turned her horse and trotted gracefully toward the big house, he had to run to keep up with her. Watching her long crinkled hair sway, the bright heels of her boots, he felt a wave of enchantment strike him like warm rain. So, in his thirtieth spring, began the strangest part of his life, as he seemed to stumble out of the knotted forest and onto a shining path.

Barkskins is an epic saga but unlike many of James Michener’s epic historical sagas or others such as The Thornbirds by Australian, Colleen McCullough, or Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie, to name only a few, Barkskins does not have the sweep and flow of history that keeps one reading through the night.

Perhaps the material here would be better served as eco-nonfiction, such as John McPhee’s The Control of Nature, Bill McKibbon’s The End of Nature, or Rachel Carson’s The Silent Spring and influence this and successive generations to save the planet and specifically in Proulx’s case, the forests that are left on our planet before they are denuded; however, as eco-fiction it falls below Annie Proulx’s admittedly extraordinarily high standards.

Perhaps her intention all along is to write a cautionary tale about the environmental catastrophe we have already wrought.

Why shouldn’t things be largely absurd, futile, and transitory? They are so, and we are so, and they and we go well together. —George Santayana

By destroying pagan animism, Christianity made it possible to exploit nature in a mood of indifference to the feeling of natural objects. —Lynn White, Jr.

These epigraphs certainly suggest the reason for Annie Proulx’s book encompassing the polemical tilt toward recording so thoroughly this irreparable damage.

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Relativity

Reviewed by:

“Relativity is a wonderful read . . . well written, sometimes lyrically so, well plotted and not afraid to enter some of the grittier territory of complex human relationships.”

Relativity by Antonia Hayes is a wonderful read. Hayes deserves a wide audience for this book. Relativity is Hayes debut novel, well written, sometimes lyrically so, well plotted and not afraid to enter some of the grittier territory of complex human relationships. One of Hayes’ singular achievements in this work is her non-judgmental stance and balanced voice.

For protagonists, 12-year-old Ethan, his biological father, Mark, and his single mom, Claire, sometimes explosive, sometimes tender, often hard-to-read shifting points of view have the ring of truth. Indeed they should, for as author Hayes says in interviews the novel’s impetus is largely based on autobiographical fact but the characters and evolving plot are fictional. The novel is set in Sydney Australia, Hayes’ hometown although she now lives in San Francisco.

Another character omnipresent in the novel is ideas created from theoretical physics and cosmology. Hayes’ writing of complex abstraction is masterful. By having, albeit a remarkable 12 year old articulate his understanding of these ideas, she makes them accessible to a wide audience.

A tattoo on Mark’s arm illustrates the interaction between science and this troubled family, ‘E=mc2’: Ethan equals Mark and Claire. Ethan, a brilliant and precocious boy fascinated by physics, Mark, a mysterious figure in Ethan’s life until he is 12, and Claire, a professional ballerina, who ends her performance career to care for her son.

No other spoilers in this review for that would mar your reading of this compulsive, compassionate, and intelligent novel. It grabs you from the jarring opening page and on the last page you gasp at the fitting paean of appreciation for the force of gravity and how Hayes links the implications of physics to the plot.

“Gravitation shapes our universe. Forms tides, heats planetary cores. It’s why fragments of gravitational matter clump together into planets and moons, why stars cluster into vast, rippling galaxies. Earth isn’t going to crash into the sun, the moon won’t collide with Earth—gravity keeps them safe in orbit. It always attracts and never repels; it brings the planets back.

Gravity is insistent. It firmly stands its ground. We never stop accelerating toward the center of the Earth at 9.8/s2. That curvature in the fabric of space-time is a phenomenon we experience every day, an invisible experience we all have in common.”

Light years from the rarified conceptual realm of scientific ideas, Ethan’s family is mired in hurt, excrutiating guilt, and a combination of hate and love not yet understood or clarified. Microcosmic and macrocosmic perceptions of human experience do not align—yet.

“Claire got dressed. Her head was full of contradictions, as though each hemisphere of her own brain were battling some civil war. Confusion left her with a strong desire for solitude, to be left alone with her conflicting thoughts. She felt completely disorientated, questioning her entire life. What if her heart had reshaped itself around a lie? Part of her was angry . . . another part of her utterly distraught.”

Ethan, a child on the cusp of adolescence, is the perfect vehicle through which the story unfolds. We learn at the same time he does the mysterious twists of family history, burial and reframing of tortured memories, a family constellation torn apart.

Gravity does not operate the same way in this family constellation as it does on a universal scale; the stars do not align, at least not on the surface. But at the quantum level gravity and relativity are present although to the untrained eye particles heave and bubble like chaos itself.

Hayes invites us to look deeper into the quantum level of her characters’ psyches. Our clue to this interpretation is Ethan’s pet rabbit named, Quark. As Hayes explains, quarks are elementary particles and fundamental constituents of matter. Quarks combine to form particles called hadrons, the components of atomic nuclei.

The matter that constitutes stars is the same matter firing neurons in our brains. At some level Ethan is already the space-time traveler he strives to be. After all, the title of the novel is Relativity.

– See more at: http://www.nyjournalofbooks.com/book-review/relativity#sthash.rnDkrJJr.dpuf

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