This post is part of a virtual book tour organized by Goddess Fish Promotions. Eileen Colucci will be awarding a $10 Amazon/BN GC to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour. Click on the tour banner to see the other stops on the tour.
What is the favorite book you remember as a child?
I loved MADELINE by Ludwig Bemelmans. Even though I never had my appendix out I loved this story about a little French girl who lives in a boarding school in Paris with eleven other girls. The rhyming text and pictures are charming. Never did I imagine I would one day visit all the lovely places in Paris myself. I did imagine what it would be like to live in that school though and be friends with Madeline or even be her. I bought two copies of this book for my little granddaughter, one in English and one in French. I also got her the doll. She enjoys the story now too.
What are you reading right now?
I am spending a few days at the beach so I chose a few light reads: THE WEDDING BEES by Sarah-Kate Lynch and The Book of Lost and Found by Lucy Foley. I haven't started them yet so I can't comment on them. But I just finished A SMALL INDISCRETION by Jan Ellison and found it excellent. It's about love, betrayal and family and the hold that our past has on us. It's also about not only being true to those we love but also to ourselves. I highly recommend it.
E-Reader or print? Why?
Since I live in Morocco, it is difficult to find books in English, especially recent titles. The books you do find are expensive. So I really enjoy being able to download books on my Kindle at a reasonable price as soon as they come out. It is nice taking my Kindle on trips too. However, I also like to read print books. Whenever I travel to the States I make several trips to Barnes and Noble and stock up on their Bargain Books in fiction. There is always one carry-on sized suitcase reserved for all my books. I love the whole bookstore experience, the smell of coffee brewing, the browsing, and the little extras you always find. I also love the look and feel of a printed book. So I would say I like both formats because they each have their advantages.
One book at a time or multiples?
I am not a multi-tasker. I believe in what the Dalai Lama says: "When I eat, I eat..." It's about being "mindful." So, I like to read one book at a time. That way I am able to really focus on and to savor the writing. The only exception might be reading one fiction and another non-fiction book. But that is rare.
Dog-ear or bookmark? (don't worry—Librarian Judith won't hold it against you—much)
I always use a bookmark. I like to keep my books in pristine condition. I have a collection of nice bookmarks, many I've received as gifts. One of my favorites is a cloth one a friend embroidered for me. I have an ornate metal one too from Morocco.
Favorite book you've read this year?
That would be The Moor's Account by Leila Lalami. It's a historical novel written from the viewpoint of a Moroccan slave who goes on the doomed Spanish expedition to what is now Florida. It's a beautifully detailed journal that looks at the very nature of storytelling. I learned a lot yet it was so enjoyable thanks to the brilliant narration. I particularly liked how the narrator described his feelings of homesickness that I found to be universal and easy to relate to.
When do you do most of your reading? Favorite place to read?
I like to read in bed at night before going to sleep. This is where a Kindle comes in handy because if I'm reading a print book I need to keep the light on and this disturbs my husband. Of course, now that I'm retired I can read whenever I want really so if I'm in the middle of a real page-turner I will read during the day in our sitting room until I finish the book.
Do you loan your books? Keep books or give them away?
I loan books to people who I think would enjoy and relate to them. I put a little yellow stickie with my name inside the cover so I get them back.
Sometimes I will give a book away if I think someone really needs it at that point in their lives. There are some books though that are keepers that I love so much I can't let go of them. In that case I might even hesitate to lend them out. If I really want to share them with someone I will just get them their own copy.
Re-reader or not?
Presumably my "keeper" books are ones I may want to reread if not in whole at least in part. I have reread many childhood classics (The Great Gatsby, To Kill a Mockingbird) and found them to be totally different books viewed as an adult. The second time around they are even more enjoyable in some ways. I reread The Hunger Games because the first time I was racing through the action to find out the ending. My second reading was much more careful and appreciative. I am actually reading The Catcher in the Rye, my favorite book of all, for the third or fourth time right now. Which is why I haven't started those beach books since I can't read more than one book at a time. Do I have too many reading rules? I hope not.
It is my hope that SHE’S LIKE A RAINBOW will promote peace and understanding among people of different cultural and ethnic backgrounds. My aim is to stimulate discussion on everything we have in common as human beings regardless of our particular heritage. We are all connected.
So begins Reema Ben Ghazi’s tale set in Morocco. Reema awakes one morning to find her skin has changed from whipped cream to dark chocolate. From then on, every few years she undergoes another metamorphosis, her color changing successively to red, yellow and ultimately brown. What is the cause of this strange condition and is there a cure? Does the legend of the White Buffalo have anything to do with it? As Reema struggles to find answers to these questions, she confronts the reactions of the people around her, including her strict and unsympathetic mother, Lalla Jamila; her timid younger sister, Zakia; and her two best friends, Batoul and Khalil. At the same time, she must deal with the trials of adolescence even as her friendship with Khalil turns to first love. One day, in her search for answers, Reema discovers a shocking secret – she may have been adopted at birth. As a result, Reema embarks on a quest to find her birth mother that takes her from twentieth-century Rabat to post-9/11 New York.
Reema’s humanity shines through her story, reminding us of all we have in common regardless of our particular cultural heritage. SHE’S LIKE A RAINBOW, which will appeal to teens as well as adults, raises intriguing questions about identity and ethnicity.
We were not very strict Muslims. We did not pray five times a day, nor did we go to Mosque every Friday (though we did attend on all the Aids or Holy Days, to celebrate the Sacrifice of Abraham, the end of Ramadan, and such). Zakia and I emulated Mother and did not cover our heads. As she got older, Mother took to praying and began to wear a head scarf whenever she went out, removing it at home, leaving it on in her shop. She did not insist that we begin wearing one however. Since Zakia and I went to the French Mission schools, we did not receive religious instruction as part of the regular curriculum like our cousins who went to Moroccan schools did. To fill this gap, Mother hired a tutor who came once a week to teach us the Koran and to supplement the mediocre Arabic lessons provided at school.
Mother had several copies of the Koran. There was one, wrapped in gift paper that she kept in her room. I had come upon the sealed package one day when I was about seven and, not knowing what was inside, I had torn the golden wrapping to have a peek. Afterward, when I’d asked Mother why she kept an old Koran that was falling apart, she had scolded me severely and boxed my ears. She told me that Father had brought the holy book back from the Haj and had carefully wrapped it in order to preserve it.
Needless to say, we did not use this book for our lessons. Instead, Haj Brahim (he was addressed as “Haj” because he, like Father, had made the pilgrimage to Mecca) would take down the large, heavy Koran from the top shelf in the book case and try to help us understand the verses. When this failed, he would settle for having us memorize them.
Not content to just recite the words without understanding their meaning, I had convinced Mother to buy a version that had the Arabic on the left side with the French translation on the right. This was the book that I used for my private prayers and to search for an explanation for my multiple transformations.
I was not having much success however and decided I must talk to Haj Brahim about it. I didn’t want to ask him in front of Zakia, so I would have to choose my moment carefully.
One afternoon, Haj Brahim showed up a little early for our lesson. Mother showed him into the sitting room and asked Naima to make some tea. Zakia was having a shower because she had participated in a race at school that day (that she’d lost, of course). Seizing the opportunity, I slipped into the room and gently closed the door.
Haj Brahim was a portly man, in his sixties and decidedly bald. He was an old acquaintance of Father’s who had helped Mother settle the inheritance after Father died. Mother was in a predicament as a widow with only daughters. In the absence of a male heir, Father’s three brothers had tried to wrest as much as they could, but Haj, who was an expert in Islamic law and connected to one of the Mosques in Rabat, had made sure that Mother’s rights, however limited, were protected. (Those rights would have been even more limited had Father not already taken several precautions while still alive, such as putting many of the deeds and wealth in Mother’s name.)
I cleared my throat and Haj, who sat leaning back on the sofa with his hands folded in his lap, looked over at me and smiled. As always, he wore a little white skull cap that he only removed now. I began hesitatingly to describe my problem. Haj must have been aware of my transformations as he’d been giving us lessons since I was nine and still “Reema, The Palest One of All.” He had never mentioned anything about my “condition” though. He listened carefully as I timidly described my tormenters at school, mother’s failure to sympathize, and my personal doubts as to God’s role in all this. I stopped abruptly when Naima brought the tea and placed the tray in front of me.
Using the knitted mitt, I grasped the silver teapot and poured some tea into one of the crystal glasses. Then, I poured the tea back in the pot and served us both. I glanced at the clock. Zakia would be coming in any minute and my chance would be lost. Haj nodded subtly, as if he understood my urgency, and went to get the Koran from the shelf. He put on his reading glasses, then took them off and wiped them with the cloth napkin that Naima had given him.
He paused before putting them on again and recited to me, “’Endure with patience, for your endurance is not without the help of God.’ God presents us all with different challenges, Reema. You must have patience and His wisdom will be revealed to you. All in good time.”
“But, why Haj? Why is God doing this? Making my skin change color all the time like I’m some kind of freak. What have I done wrong?”
Without answering, he opened the book to the very end and read me a verse:
As time passes,
Everyone suffers loss
Except those who believe
and do good deeds and urge one another to be true
and to bear with courage the trials that befall them.
I could hear Zakia coming down the stairs. I quickly noted the page so that I could go back to it later.
Haj closed the book and said softly to me, “You are young, Reema. What seems like a great ‘trial’ today may not seem so terrible later on. You are a good girl. Just be brave – and patient.”
He patted me lightly on my hand. Somehow, it did not feel patronizing or dismissive. The butterfly touch of his fingers gave me hope.
Colucci holds a BA in French and English from the University at Albany and an MA in Education from Framingham State University.
When not writing, Colucci enjoys practicing yoga, taking long walks and playing with her chocolate Labrador Retriever, Phoebo. Now that she and her husband have four grandchildren, they spend as much time as possible in Virginia with their two sons and their families.
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