Thursday, February 1, 2018

As Good As True - Review, excerpt and Q & A

Idgie Says:
Before I talk about the story itself, look at the gorgeous cover!  It really stands out on a bookshelf. You know we all love a pretty book.  :)

Don't let the pretty cover fool you though.  This is not a happy book... it jumps out at you from the first page with violence, fear and despair.  

The novel is not fast paced, it takes it's time exploring the story and how Anna's life came to be as it currently is. The book moves back and forth in time, from when Anna was a child to the present. The characters are fully fleshed out and rich in emotion.

The cultural beliefs of Anna's family, along with culture clashes with others is described in close detail, helping you to understand the family and how the situation Anna ends up in comes to be, the pressure that was felt. 

From the first chapter you are left wondering what will happen to Anna in the end, what ramifications will be dealt out.

Hardcover: 370 pages
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing (February 1, 2018)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1503949540
A powerful and haunting novel of a woman’s broken past and the painful choices she must make to keep her family and her home.

August 1956. After a night of rage and terror, Anna Nassad wakes to find her abusive husband dead and instinctively hides her bruises and her relief. As the daughter of Syrian immigrants living in segregated Alabama, Anna has never belonged, and now her world is about to erupt.

Days before, Anna set in motion an explosive chain of events by allowing the first black postman to deliver the mail to her house. But it’s her impulsive act of inviting him inside for a glass of water that raises doubts about Anna’s role in her husband’s death.
As threats and suspicions arise in the angry community, Anna must confront her secrets in the face of devastating turmoil and reconcile her anguished relationship with her daughter. Will she discover the strength to fight for those she loves most, even if it means losing all she’s ever known?

After I married, I baked early in the morning and worked the rest of the day. I liked getting up in the dark and feeling the oven warming against my side as I drank my coffee. After the sun and the loaves had risen, I opened the oven to put them in and the heat rushed out like a warm sigh on my face. In the beginning I was clumsy with a hot rack or a pan and touched them to my forearm. I collected a row of tiny burns, stacked one on top of the other like a miniature white ladder running up my arm.
I was happy working. The radio played low and the sounds of the clock and my breathing were peaceful. I liked it all—the kneading, the folding, the flattening of mountain bread between my palms, the smells of yeast and fresh baked bread, the slick of sweat between my clothes and skin. I remembered my mother doing these same things, and this was enough to feel good.
The baking kept me going, especially later in the day, when I became Cinderella of Nassad Grocery. I cleaned the plate-glass windows, scrubbed the floors, discarded the ruined food, and anything Elias or Nelly asked of me. I also cared for the lion, Leona.
The creature watched for me. Her large golden eyes fixed on the back door of the store and waited until I came out. I believed she remembered my smell from my childhood and from when I was a teenager and came to her on the nights she rumbled and called and I could not sleep. I snuck into Papa’s store and wrapped bits of meat to take to her. I ran as fast as I could down the river trail, not because I was afraid to be alone at night or that my father or Elsa would be angry with me for going. I ran because I was happy to be alive, to be running, to have the blood rushing through my veins and nothing but the natural world around me. It was like swimming through air and darkness under the trees. I was part of the landscape and no one looked at me to figure out what I was or where I was from. There were only my feet against the dusty trail as I ran beneath the bridges and past the old courthouse. I was anonymous.
As I got closer to the grunting lion, she stopped her noise and paced the cage, sniffing the air in the direction from which I came. I gave her the scraps of meat and she licked my palms where the meat had been. She lay down and she quieted. I sat with my back pressing against the bars and she scooted her weight close. She could have killed me one way or another, by clawing though the bars or severing my hand when I gave her the meat, but she seemed happy to have another living creature near. I pretended she held my mother’s spirit, and beneath the quiet, dark sky, I told her my thoughts on books or boys or the mean girls, until her head lay on the concrete pad. Then I walked sleepily back home.
When I married and became her caretaker, she waited for me, like a sphinx, her head intent and high, her hind legs beneath her, her forepaws in front. She jumped to standing when she saw me coming, waved her tail high, and paced her cage. The sight of me signaled food and water, relief from her loneliness. I hosed down her cage, lugged meat and bones for her, and gave her fresh water each day. I was the one to touch her and scratch her side. She purred from deep in her chest and it sounded as if it came from the center of the earth.

From As Good as True, “The Lion” pp. 248-9



Cheryl Reid, Q&A for As Good as True
How did you come to this story?
In my creative writing classes in college, I wrote stories about Anna, a first-generation Syrian-American, and her young niece Sophie, who was living in a turbulent family situation. Anna was drawn to help the child, even though she was failing as a mother with her own kids. Both of them, because of their ethnicity and status in the small Southern town, were lonely, but they found some comfort in each other. Later on, when I had to come up with an idea for my MFA thesis, I kept coming back to Anna’s character, her place and situation in the town.

What drew you to writing about Syrian immigrants in this setting and time?
My great grandparents were immigrants from Syria in the early 1900’s. They met in the U.S. and settled in small town in Alabama. My great-grandfather was a peddler, first on foot, then with a horse and buggy before he opened his own brick and mortar store. I never met my great-grandparents, but I was always curious about their homeland and why they had come to America. Much of that history was lost due to the pressure of assimilation. I wondered about their experiences, especially since they lived and worked in the black community, but their kids, my grandfather and his siblings, attended the white school. I wanted to explore the how they might have navigated their place in that complicated social and racial hierarchy.
            Also, I was interested in how the Old Country’s history, language and customs were lost to assimilation for the first-generation Arab Americans.  Traces of the value systems and food remained, but the overall loss of their cultural identity was a sacrifice.
As Good as True is an intense book and the main character Anna endures spousal abuse. Do you worry about the violent nature of the story?
I don’t because in my opinion some of the best stories grapple with human suffering. Think of all the literary treasures that focus on slavery, the Holocaust, rape, poverty, to name a few. A writer should not shy away from hard truths or situations.
 I always saw Anna as a kind of trapped animal with a strong spirit trying to survive. I felt I had to be true to Anna’s time and place, in which she wasn’t afforded the agency that a woman of today might have.  Because the novel takes place over four days, the story is meant to be visceral and emotional and intense. Anna is flawed, but that’s what is interesting to me. She’s in a pressure-cooker situation, trying to understand where she’s gone wrong and then attempting to find grace and redemption where she can.
            I started writing this book long before the #MeToo movement, but I think Anna’s story speaks to the violence and abuse many women have faced across cultures and time. In Anna’s world, there were few if any places for a woman to get help. Women could not speak out or escape, especially if their husbands controlled the finances, which most did.  Religious communities and the law agencies were reticent to intervene. If family members tried to help, they might find that these women were inextricably tied to their abusers. They had children with them and probably felt some loyalty to them. There was shame involved too, and shame is a very powerful thing. Certainly many women were conditioned to stay and do the best they could.  It was and remains to be a complicated issue.

How do you think this book relates to today?
Obviously, there is a message about how we see each other, how we value each other, how we connect. We have to fight against creating “the other” in our day-to-day lives and in society as a whole. This relates to our current political state—isolation and racism damage everyone involved.

Do you think there is hope in the story?
I do. People in dire circumstances find courage to go on living, and this is the definition of hope. That’s not to say that people do this perfectly. They make mistakes. Anna is a flawed character, but she’s tries reconcile her past and hopes for a brighter future, if not for herself, then for her children and grandchild.
I wanted to invoke hope through imagery, especially Anna’s connection with the natural world—the mockingbird, the geese, the garden, the sea, the river, even though the river has its sinister moments. Also Anna’s everyday work—baking bread—is an act of hope. It connects her to the past and her mother, and she does it to nourish her loved ones and her town. It’s her way of contributing something positive.