Over here in the States, July 4th is best known for its fireworks — but not for its fires.  A horrible fire started on Main Street in our little town at 9.00 in the morning, and burnt wildly for most of the day.  One of our best restaurants was completely destroyed and my heart goes out to them.  But I must comment mostly on the fact that the fire also spread to the store which really has been the heart and soul of the town for 35 years — the bookstore, A Bunch of Grapes.  This is where everyone in town meets, year-round, to chat after their morning coffee, to grab the paper after the morning workout, to listen to authors from all over the world read from their work, to sit on the bench and argue about local politics, to thumb through the enormous display of works produced by local authors (we’re everywhere here — you can barely pick a shell up off the beach without finding another one of us scrambling underneath).  So for days, all of us have been walking around in shock.  Everyone’s first greeting is “have you heard?” with a hand covering the mouth as if to stop the dreaded news from being  uttered and, so, being true.  The repercussions are also horrible.  Just imagine what it does to all the small, struggling, seasonal businesses when the entire street is closed down for the biggest shopping day of the season, when the shop that helps drive an entire economy, an entire community, is suddenly stopped short. Think of all those smoke-damaged books. Think of all the writers reliant on the summer sales of those now destroyed books.  As you can tell, my heart, along with everyone else’s, is breaking.

But the owners are determined to open again.  The community is already banding together to help rebuild both of these devastated buildings.  Coffee cans for donations are in every window.  Charity concerts will certainly be held.  Everyone will do what they can to get both of these businesses back on their feet.  And that’s the truly wonderful thing about community.  We all spend so much time screaming about the horrors in this world, we forget that it is community — one single person helping his neighbour — which really shows our capacity for civilized behaviour.  I think it is our sense of community, be it as small as an island or as big as a continent, which can give us the greatest hope.

A bookstore (temporarily) lost.  A book found.  One of the unexpected joys of becoming a part of this blogging world is the way I have met authors I might never have come across and have  become familiar with their work.  One of these authors is the talented and funny,

  Debi Alper and one of those books is her novel, Trading Tatiana.  This is neither Debi’s first nor most recent book (which is why I chose it, to be honest).  It was published in 2004 and has everything a political crime thriller should have: drug-addicts, Eastern European thugs, S&M devotees, mysterious foreign women, oppressed single mothers, dangerous and ruthless men.  It is fast-paced, expertly constructed, written with an acute eye for detail and facile use of language.  In short, it was great fun to read.  I, quite literally, couldn’t put it down.  But there is something else about this book which makes it more than a terrific beach read and I believe it is the heart and soul of all of Debi’s work and, probably, Debi herself.  Trading Tatiana is steeped in the difficult political issues of our urban community back in the UK — political asylum, the plight and exploitation of Ukrainian refugees, the abuse of women. It is about how one single person can change the world and be changed by it by refusing to turn a blind eye.  And so Trading Tatiana is more than “just” a great read with a terrific plot.  It creates a world of living characters and forces them to do what so many of us “real” people refuse to do, namely, “the right thing.”  At the heart of this work is an investigation of the problems and power of political activism, and so Debi’s work becomes not only exciting and captivating, but also challenging to us all, to the way we live our own lives and the roles we are willing to play in our own communities.  An excellent find indeed!