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AUDIOBOOKS: Nonfiction and book club picks

By Sunday, Feb 9, 2020 Arts & Entertainment

A rediscovered nonfiction book by one of the Harlem Renaissance’s greatest writers, an Oprah Book Club pick, and a nonfiction account of genocide and emigration make up this week’s audiobook choices.

Barracoon
Zora Neale Hurston; read by Robin Miles
Harper Audio, three hours and 50 minutes, $22.95/www.audible.com, $20.95

This slim volume provides the listener with an interesting, albeit uncomfortable, slice of history. Hurston’s first work, this nonfiction account of the last freed slave in America languished until recently, mostly because of Hurston’s use of the vernacular, which was originally deemed unpalatable to publishers. Though the story is somewhat disjointed and leaves us wanting more, it provides fascinating historical insight. Hurston’s introduction and Alice Walker’s forward are both compelling, and Miles’ narration is chillingly accurate as her clear, crisp diction melts into the deeper, lilting voice of an elderly man. Grade: A-minus

An American Marriage
Tayari Jones; read by Sean Crisden and Eisa Davis
HighBridge Audio, seven CDs, nine hours, $34.99/www.audible.com, $24.49

This pick for Oprah’s Book Club is a realistic and well-told tale of a marriage destroyed by the wrongful incarceration of a black man in the New South. Roy is upwardly mobile, educated and a loving husband, but few marriages can endure the separation and stress of incarceration. Davis and Crisden read so naturally and with such feeling that the production takes on a heartbreaking intimacy. Jones illustrates the strengths and flaws in both these people and the judicial system, resulting in a story both relevant and cautionary. Though not blue, the material is adult. Grade: A-minus

The Girl Who Smiled Beads: A Story of War and What Comes After
Clementine Wamariya and Elizabeth Weil; read by Robin Miles with an afterward read by Wamariya
Random House Audio, eight CDs, nine hours, $40/www.audible.com, $27.95

In order to survive the Rwandan genocide in 1994, 6-year-old Wamariya fled her home with an older sister and traveled through seven African countries, feeling “unwanted by everyone,” before being resettled in America. Unlike most memoirists, Wamariya does not present her best self, but shows us her true self. Angry, alienated and distrustful, Wamariya reveals the unvarnished face of those victimized by war and what it takes to get back on track. Miles does a fine job with African pronunciations, but she sounds very American and polished. She aptly expresses emotion, and there are no complaints except that this would have hit harder if told with a slight Rwandan accent. Grade: A


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