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Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Cailiffs of Baghdad, Georgia by Mary Helen Stefaniak

Hi there readers!
Welcome back to Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers.....the place to be when you're really hungry and true sustanence will only come from the pages of a book.This week, prepare to be satisfied with reviews, guest posts and the like to satisfy your bookish cravings. Today's featured title starts the feast and is reminiscent of a classic read generation after generation starring a Southern cast of characters you won't soon forget. Get ready to be transported to a time and place not so far away from our own. Today's book of choice is....

Mary Helen Stefaniak

From the publisher....
Narrator Gladys Cailiff is eleven years old in 1938 when a worldly schoolteacher turns the small town of Threestep, Georgia, upside down. Miss Grace Spivey defies the traditional curriculum and racial boundaries alike, regaling her charges with readings from the Thousand Nights and a Night and casting a gifted African American student as "chief engineer" of the town's annual festival, newly reinvented as the Baghdad Bazaar. But her progressive actions are not without consequence and ultimately culminate in a night of death-defying stories that take readers on a magic carpet ride from a schoolroom in the South to the banks of the Tigris (and back again).

Truth be told, this story reminded me a lot of the infamous "To Kill a Mockingbird" by Harper Lee.  The Southern setting, the timeframe, the prejudices seen and the lead character chosen to divulge all the events that transpired.  It's a story about prejudice. A story about how everyone has the right to learn no matter their race, age or background. A story about accepting our differences, or heck even celebrating them the best way we know how. 

Taking the time to reflect on this one, I think I can appreciate the narrators' voice (Gladys Cailiff) even more. It was honest and truthful; its innocence retained both before and after the events played out (no pun intended) just had a new set of eyes through which to view the world.  Miss Spivey was a breath of fresh air to a town that was seriously due for a spring cleaning...whether they knew it or not.  She's not perfect and her transgressions end up being her downfall, but she really tries to make a difference and throw a new coat of paint on a tiresome old problem.  In short, her character is a firecracker with a lot of heart and had it not been for her impact on Gladys' life, I don't think she would have amounted to half the person she did.

Theo Boykin on the other hand was a character we'd have loved to see go far but was ill fated from the start.  He achieves so many things in his youth that one could barely fathom the feats he would have reached given the chance.  Now I know what that sounds like...I promise, I'm not spoiling the story in any fashion, merely making a suggestion to allow his presence to make the impact it was intended to whilst completing this literary journey.

Then there's those characters you love to hate like Mavis (who actually has a life changing experience later on in the story) and Mr. Gordan (who wouldn't bother to change to save his life).  Sometimes they get what's coming to them, other times not so much but they make the story complete in the end.  The extended family, friends and not-so-friendlies all play a roll as this story unfolds but I'll let you discover them for the most part on your own.

Now, there is one part that started to lose me about 2/3 of the way in. Certain events transpire leading to a rather lengthy story telling from the town's temporarily dubbed Shahrazad (a story teller from their play), where truth and fiction are woven together to create a masterpiece worth turning your attention to.  Don't get me wrong, it was done well and anyone that wasn't focused on it rather than the events actually happening in the town just wasn't paying attention...however, for me it got a bit TOO into the historical tale.  Admittedly, I'm not a huge historic fiction fan in the true sense of the word so that probably played a part...but had the ending not weaved it way back on course, my end opinion on this one might have differed.  Now to my summary....

In conclusion, I enjoyed the story a great deal and warn you, once you enter the town of Baghdad, Georgia you may not want to leave.  Though it's true, you will meet those who will stand against you, if you don't stand for something you'll fall for anything, right? Whole heartedly recommended to older teens (there's one scene not quite proper for younger eyes even if the narrator is a child) through adults the reading world over.  Southern lit fans, TKAM fans, and fiction fans in general....there's something of value in this one for one and all...and life lessons to be gleaned.

Review copy courtesy of W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. (THANKS!) For more information on this title as well as their complete catalog of works, feel free to visit them online at . This book was released in paperback September of this year and should be available on a bookstore shelf near you.

Until next time....happy reading!

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